“Why should His Holiness not have a cat-if, indeed, having a cat is a correct understanding of the relationship?”
I was sold at the cat’s picture on the cover. Dalai Lama and feeling tickled that His Holiness too is fond of cats was just the cherry on the cake. Once I started reading The Dalai Lama’s Cat by David Michie (finishing it at breakneck speed), I gained the brand new perspective of Buddhist life in Jokhang Monastery from a height of 1.5 ft and sometimes, from the top shelf of Cafe Franc.
Yes, the book is narrated by none other than His Holiness’s Cat or HHC modelled around the author, David Michie’s own Himalayan cat, Princess Wussik of the Sapphire Throne.
Before anything else, let me clarify that this is not exactly a self-help book weaved around a story like Robin Sharma’s The Saint, The Surfer, and The CEO or The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari. This is (as per The Hindu) Buddhism’s ageless tenets are condensed in a deceptively light-hearted manner. The laws of Buddhism are universal and therefore, also applicable to the animals – this comes through clearly in this book.
Spiritual books are usually tedious and obscure. Really difficult to understand. The Dalai Lama’s Cat fills that void for Buddhism.
“You know, Professor, this stray kitten and you have one very important thing in common.”
“I can’t imagine,” responded the professor coolly.
“Your life is the most important thing in the world to you,” said His Holiness. “Same for this kitten.”
Dalai Lama finds cat litter on the verge of dying in the streets of Delhi. He picks one up and brings her into the monastery. From then on, we know the cat through many endearing names such as His Holiness’s Cat, Rinpoche, Mousie-Tung, Snow Lion, or in her own words as The Most Beautiful Creature That Ever Lived. The cat is privy to all of Dalai Lama’s guests and profound conversation he shares with them which help her unravel a few things about her nature too.
“It was his habit to ask visitors if they minded having me in the room. Some humans, it seems, are afflicted with an allergy that must be as devastating as a violent reaction to, say, Belgian truffles, Italian coffee, or Mozart.”
As you begin your journey with the cat, from the streets of Delhi to the lanes of McLeod Ganj, you’re growing up and untying the knots of complex questions in the breeziest of ways. Cats have that kind of effect on hoomans!
Why a cat’s perspective?
“Music and cats offer the only escape from the miseries of life.” ~ Albert Einstein
The foremost reason for using a cat’s perspective is the very reason why cats rule the Internet – They are so much like humans, just is an overwhelmingly more adorable packaging.
“There’s no thrilling anticipation of the day’s first cup of coffee…nor the eye-closing delight of that first swallow of sauvignon blanc in the evening. We cats have no access to everyday mood-enhancing substances. Apart from humble catnip, there is no pharmaceutical refuge if we’re suffering from boredom, depression, existential crisis, or even an everyday headache.”
That’s HHC for you! Damn relatable.
In the book, you’ll find that HHC’s observations of the world are astute, honest, and childlike. Even the slightest change in attitude or shift in body language is noted by her which is important to convey the subtle ways in which your thoughts, emotions and Buddhist way of life can influence your life.
Her entire narrative is around situations that most humans deal with every day. She gets mad at people, feels jealous, proud, annoyed, bored, expects too much, eats too much, and so on. All these emotions are later revisited from the graceful eyes of Dalai Lama which establishes a contrasting (read: better alternative) way of processing these experiences.
“Most people think that their only option is to change their circumstances. But these are not the true causes of their unhappiness. It has more to do with the way they think about their circumstances.”
As a cat person, I knew this book was written for me. But the simplicity with which it dealt with complex issues was almost magical. Lessons on gluttony vs. moderation, self-absorption, self-esteem woes, appearance vs. reality, resentment, friendships and first loves, all get imbibed in your psyche like sleight of hand.
As the story progresses, you can notice an evolution in her mindset – from selfish and victim-thinking to empathetic, happy and confident. She transforms truly into a Bodhicatva.
“My little ‘bodhicatva’,” he will sometimes call me, a play on bodhisattva, a Sanskrit term that in Buddhism refers to an enlightened being.
The Dalai Lama’s Cat is Buddhism 101 for a 5-year-old – in word and practice.
Cat wisdom from The Dalai Lama’s Cat
Smitten by Buddhism, I used to wonder if there was ever a way to adopt Buddhism and find peace in a monastery for a person like me who is tied up in the material world. This book opened my eyes – you can be practice Buddhism, find happiness and meaning in a busy, materialistic world too. Because it’s not about the religion, but more about the lifestyle and thought process.
So, here are a few things HHC taught me in just 200 pages:
#1 The answer is you. You are your Hero.
“Enlightened beings cannot take away your suffering or give you happiness. If they could do this, wouldn’t they have done so already?”
#2 Practice leads to perfection.
“As you practice Dharma more and more, the flow gets stronger and is joined by other streams. It may occasionally falter, like a waterfall, or disappear beneath the surface, but it keeps going, gathering strength. Eventually, it becomes like a very large river that’s broad and powerful and the center of everything in your life.”
#3 Change comes from within.
“Our awareness of a truth needs to deepen to the point at which it actually changes our behavior.”
#4 Perspective is the determinant.
“It is not so much the circumstances of our lives that make us happy or unhappy but the way we see them”
#5 Hating is as exhausting as loving. So, accept and love yourself, and you’ll be stronger.
“In Buddhism, we would say that you are lazy… Despising yourself, thinking you are no good, saying ‘I can’t do this.’ This is the mind of weakness. You must work to overcome it .”
#6 Be wisely selfish about your happiness.
“Impermanence. It is the nature of all things, especially relationships. They are certainly not a true cause of happiness.”
“The main shift, you see, is from placing self at the center of our thoughts to putting others there. It is – what do you say? – a paradox that the more we focus our thoughts on the well-being of others, the happier we become. The first one to benefit is oneself. I call this being wisely selfish.”
#7 Sometimes, an activity as simple as a nap can give you a fresh perspective.
“There’s nothing like a good, long sleep to allow unpleasantness to recede into the past.”
Over to you
“Sometimes our light goes out, but is blown again into flame by an encounter with another human being. Each of us owes the deepest thanks to those who have rekindled this inner light.”
If you’ve been feeling down lately, perplexed by life’s crisis, or in a whirlpool or self-pity, I suggest you pick up this book for a wise, but profoundly hilarious and entertaining read. While the book leaves much to be desired from its successors, it opens a sunny window to the Buddhist way of living in a materialistic world. Buy the book from Amazon.
(Yes, that’s an affiliate link: Clicking and buying from it wouldn’t cost you extra, but the commission might help me review more books.)